HSI slams draft bill allowing wildlife killing free-for-all
Not even threatened wildlife safe from NSW licensing carnage
Recent media reports have outlined that despite authorising the killing of 47,000 native animals in NSW last year, the low bar set by National Parks and Wildlife Act licences "to harm fauna" will be further weakened by the passage of the Government's Biodiversity Conservation Bill. Humane Society International (HSI) reveals that the destruction doesn't stop there, with another licencing avenue that has seen threatened species harmed in the hundreds of thousands set to receive the same treatment.
There are huge conservation and animal welfare implications for these proposed changes, that threaten long-held and agreed management procedures for protecting our wildlife. Biological rule number one is to monitor all our impacts on native wildlife so we can manage conservation trends. These changes will mean reduced record keeping and an "open-season” on many of the animals closest to the heart of all Australians, all so that the state government can save a few bucks. If these changes pass through the Parliament, HSI will seek every legal avenue to reverse the policy.
Of great concern, the current NSW licensing carnage applies equally to threatened species through an abused and unchallengeable legal loophole for s91 licences "to harm a threatened species, population or ecological community” under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
"That 130 native animals are licenced to be killed in NSW each day will no doubt be alarming to most people. It's a figure that suggests that all you have to do to legally kill wildlife is fill in the paperwork,” said HSI Senior Program Manager, Evan Quartermain. "Even more shocking is that the same treatment applies to species listed as being threatened with extinction. HSI has recently kept close watch as several significant s91 applications have been processed, with each frustratingly resulting in legally immune exemption certificates being issued that allow the applicant to harm threatened species with impunity.”
When the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) receives an application to harm a threatened species or ecological community, they can determine that the proposed action is not likely to 'significantly affect' it, and issue a s95 certificate under the Threatened Species Conservation Act that exempts the applicant from licencing requirements. Alternatively, if OEH is of the view the action would have a significant impact it can require a Species Impact Statement be developed before issuing a licence, or simply refuse the application.
A quick analysis of the public OEH s91 licence register shows that of applications received and processed since 2011, s95 certificates declaring the proposed action 'not significant' have been issued 134 times, licences that required further assessment 5 times, while just 2 applications have been refused.
Among the applications declared 'not significant' was the dispersal of more than 100,000 grey-headed flying-foxes from Batemans Bay, potentially a quarter of the national population. HSI obtained detailed advice from prominent flying-fox experts who determined that this was quite clearly a significant action on the species that at the very least required a Species Impact Statement. However, within a day of the application being received OEH permitted the dispersal to go ahead without further assessment, safe in the knowledge that their decision was unable to be challenged or appealed.
"Not only can harm to threatened species be authorised with the stroke of a pen through s95 certificates, but vulnerable species such as grey-headed flying-foxes continue to be shot for crop protection through yet another avenue – s120 licences under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. How can such a range of cumulative impacts on threatened and supposedly protected species possibly be justified?
"Environment Minister Speakman continues to claim that these provisions will be replaced and strengthened in the new legislation, but with details not yet released and the poor state of the rest of the Bill, HSI is extremely concerned for the outcome. The Government has for some time repeatedly failed to use the power it has at present, so we're not holding our breath for positive reform,” concluded Mr Quartermain.